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I recently had the pleasure of celebrating a friend’s birthday with two of her girlfriends over dinner. It was especially nice to see her and catch up – it’d been months since our last adventure (which included heavy poutine consumption at London’s newly opened Smoke’s. I was instantly transported to Montreal during my first encounter (delicious fries with just the right amount of crisp, smothered with gravy and curds), only to face disappointment during a revisit. I certainly hope this chain’s inconsistency does not prevail.)

Food-wise, it’s interesting to be reminded of how far the boy and I have deviated from the norm. How far we’ve grown in the last few years with our ever rising culinary skills and penchant for interesting flavour combinations. Which leads us to almost never going out for dinner unless we’re going for the best, and make an event out of fine dining spearheaded by creative and innovative chefs. Some folks spend their entertainment budget on movie or video games; I splurge on food. And I have no qualms saving my pennies to savour fine dining, but am adverse to to spending on mediocrity. Case in point: we planned part of our last trip to NYC around dining at Wylie Dufresne‘s currently Michelin star rated wd-50, and even had a chance to meet the molecular gastronomist himself!

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I was in cooking mode since my first cup of coffee last Friday; it was grand. In fact, I went to bed the night before with purple hands. Beets!

The beauty of Montreal was having semi-regular dinner parties. Pretty much two of my favourite things in the world combined: good company and good food. In any case, between the boy’s multiple church gigs and us being stuck on duty [i.e., functionally handcuffed to our apartment], I figured the best way to enjoy the long weekend was snag friends who did not have family turkey/chocolate egg hunt/etc obligations elsewhere. I was unreasonably gleeful at the number of friends who were also in town and wanting to partake in yummy eats. All of the food that was brought and shared was wonderful: cheese & crackers! pierogis! homemade oreo cookies! a salad of greens! zucchini bread! banana muffins! We even had a traditional Polish Easter cake (I believe it’s called “mazurek”) all the way from Milton.

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With gadgets like the SureShot (which still cracks me up every time) you’ve already done most of the idiot-proofing, Tim Hortons. Yet, there is still room for error and general frustration-provoking encounters. Now of course, this may not be the case in all of your locations, but certainly my last 2 incidences with you have been less than satisfactory.

Location: basement of the SSC.

Incident 1: I was too hungry and cold to wait until going home for food and figured a bowl of mediocre soup would somewhat solve the problem. The accompanying piece of bread is of course, nowhere near the boy’s home baked goods, but it’ll do. Especially if toasted. Putting on my biggest grin, I asked the lady pleasantly if she would please slice it open to toast for me. “I don’t toast! This is a small piece of baguette!” Yes, I was aware that it was a mini baguette. Again, I patiently expressed that I wanted it toasted. “No toast! It’ll burn!”. Um, actually – it’s about same thickness as your mediocre bagels, which never thoroughly toast on one pass (and thus never burn). I ask her again – third time’s the charm? “Not my fault if burnt bagel.” Yeah, okay. She grudgingly toasts it, cranking the speed on the toaster up to further prevent it from “burning”. The result? A pretty unscathed and surprise! not toasted piece of bread. Oh well, it was at least warm. Ish.

Incident 2: I was too hungry to wait until going home for food (again. I should start stocking provisions at the lab – I cringe every time I have to spend money on campus food). The line-up in the basement of the UCC was a tad less crazy than the one upstairs, so off I go again. Mission: cream cheese bagel, twice toasted. I double checked with the cashier – it’ll be flipped, then toasted again? Of course, it wasn’t she who served me (that would’ve been too efficient). It was someone who was trying to juggle my bagel and the turkey sandwich order behind me. I eyed her stacking the sandwich hesitantly and messily (did you not see the cheat sheet?). When she took my bagel out and proceeded with cream cheese-ing it, I gently reminded her that I wanted it toasted again. “Oh! It was written here already on the order!” Which confused me as to why I had to remind. But the fatal mistake was this: the bagel was toasted on the same side, and I had to walk away dissatisfied with blackened innards and untoasted externals.

I miss Montreal.

Including greasy Lebanese fast food – Boustan is absolutely unbeatable. My brief Montreal visit last weekend (new blog post come!) to traipse across the stage in a ceremony of funny hats didn’t include garlic potatoes; I figured I’d make up for it today at the food court. As much as I dislike shopping for the sake of shopping, I desperately needed a pair of everyday winter boots to combat slush and cold – it’s finally that time of year where my “nice” leather boots stay hidden in the closet until roads have been cleared of snow and salt.

I grabbed a best-of-both-words beef-and-chicken sandwich, all dressed of course. Pickled turnips! Garlic sauce! Mint! But the excitement ended after a few bites. The almost 6$ shawarma from Madina was texturally way off – the garlic sauce was goopy and not smooth, the pickled turnips were soggy, and the beef was… also soggy? I think “mushy” would be the best way to describe it. I’m not sure I want to know how a spit roast would turn mushy…

I’m packing a lunch next time I go shopping.

We’ve landed ourselves in the little town of London, in a 825 sq ft 2 bedroom apartment that’s costing us less than the 1bdrm Montreal pad.

Perhaps I should rephrase myself: we’re now located in Canada’s 10th largest city. Ahem. It takes a little getting used to when you’ve lived in Montreal for the past 5 years…

My biggest concern moving here was that there’d be a lack of food scene – but I’ve been proven wrong so far! After 8 weeks of London-ing, we’ve had beautiful food (outside of our own kitchen, of course) at Garlic’s and The Only on King.

A couple of Sundays ago, the boy and I had garlic ice cream. Yes, true to the name of the restaurant, they tried to prominently feature garlic in all of their dishes, including dessert! Pleasantly surprised, it was pretty damn tasty: the spicy kick from the raw garlic balanced well with the vanilla in the ice cream. The waitress seemed to think we were “brave” to try the chocolate covered garlic garnish (that would’ve benefited from being slightly less sweet) – perhaps most of the patrons are less daring than us. Food was okay – satisfying, but not as creative or original flavours as I would’ve liked.

The pan fried northern Lake Erie yellow skinned wild pickerel was done perfectly – every time I order fish at a restaurant (which seems to be rare), I wonder why I don’t order fish more often! It was served with a little too much remoulade, though (which went well with the potatoes, but overwhelmed the fish if you glopped it on). The boy had the the braised dorset lamb shank, accompanied by a jalapeno & mint jelly. It was nice. Satisfying.

Tonight, we dined at The Only on King – and even had a chance to meet the chefs Jason and Paul and sneak a peak at the kitchen! (drool… I want one of those). The boy’s surprise tasting menu was of beautifully autumn, and started with a chestnut soup with apple crème fraîche. An heirloom beet salad with chèvre and smoked bacon on arugula, a gnocchi and perch dish, and cornish hen done just right. Dessert? A deliciously rich and smooth chocolate tart. His mum (who suggested the lovely restaurant after reading in En Route that it was on the top 10 list of new restaurants in Canada) had a fantastically balanced endive salad featuring a blue cheese dressing, apples, and pecans. And a main of perch and dessert of sticky toffee pudding (which came with a fantastic vanilla ice cream). My rillettes to start were accompanied by lovely olives and marinaded artichoke, and the rib eye with creamed spinach and chanterelles was fantastic. The meat was cooked perfectly – and thank goodness they didn’t ask how one would like it done, because it precludes the possibility of morons ordering it medium well or well done! And I must confess (rather sheepishly) – this is the first time I’ve had chanterelles, and I’ve definitely fallen in love with them. Plating was a little less exciting, but the tastes more than made up for that component.

I’m looking forward to visiting The Only again, and seeing what Jason and Paul will whip up (their menu changes daily). Lovely atmosphere, and a cozy dining area that seats about 30. And part of their decor? They have a meat block and a duck press. How cool is that?

The Only on King
172 King Street; 519.936.2064
**** (of 5)

Garlic’s of London
481 Richmond St; 519.432.4092
*** (of 5)